It was an amber sort of night, the color of Mitchner’s in a tumbler. There was a chill from the caked snow on the ground beyond the bar’s doorstop and a warm buzz behind my eyelids. I wasn’t sure what glass I was on. And I was even less sure of who I sat with at the greased bar.
He was pale and thin, professor glasses sitting in tortoiseshell frames, a scarf wrapped around his neck like a forgotten Oxford comma. We all forget about those, don’t we? His name was something short and wasted, overused and I liked the irony of it. I pretended that he was a famous author who’d stopped to buy his muse a drink.
Through the warped film over my eyes, I was sure I knew him. From somewhere. A class maybe? A friend of a friend? We talked about DeLillo’s White Noise and character mortality in the pooling light, about the finer points of the taste of whiskey chilling over ice. We talked loudly and brashly, the two standalones, the two togethers, the two forcing a bar into the late hours of a February freeze.
We didn’t talk about the ring he wore.
Or the scar above his eyebrow. Or the age behind the creases around his eyes. Or if he’d picked out his clothes that morning or if someone else had touched them.
We stayed there until the bartender’s side-eye closed its door, until one whiskey became another and all I could taste was the smoked flavor of oak barrels and the tobacco on his lips.
Together, outside in the snow-drifts, I stayed until he reached out his hand for me and I took it, metal cold against my frozen fingers. Pressed his ringed finger to my lips. All I tasted was the copper of blood on my tongue when I didn’t leave.
I want to lock the words you texted him in a box and throw the key into the Seine because you think that river’s yours too, don’t you? I’ll watch it sink down so deep it hits the river floor. Only then I’d forget they ever breached the surface.
The box. The key. The words.
Once upon a time there was a barrier that separated me now from me then from him now from him then from you now from you then. All different people who wanted nothing to do with each other, yet here we are, sitting around a table, staring at each other in candlelit silence.
It was never my intention to meet someone who would use that word for me, who would condescend to me, who would sip wine and let it stain her teeth, fingerprints sliding across her iPhone screen in a drunken haze of want, of need, of confession.
What I’m trying to say, dear, is you could have done much better than cutie.
She was always full to bursting. Full, like there was an apple bobbing in her throat. Full, like her stomach had risen to her chest, ballooning as if it wanted to live outside her skin. It didn’t take much to feel that way. Just the scent of someone’s soup microwaving in the office kitchen. A photo on someone’s Instagram of a burger. A ketchup stain on someone’s shirt. That was all it took to feel as if she had partaken in it, as if she was a part of a community that had sat together and eaten French fries on a park bench.
That was all it took for her stomach to say: no, I have no room. When really, what it meant to say was, stop your pestering, I am making myself small. We are all making ourselves small in the end.
She was full when she had to create notches in her belt to hold up her pants. She was full when her hipbones ground into the mattress and when her knees bruised the insides of her legs in sharpness. She was full even when she wasn’t, even when people told her she hadn’t eaten in days.
No, she’d say, trying to point out all those things that had somehow made their way into her body without permission. It’s here, I swear, can you see it?
No one could.
Even when they told her she was empty, nothing fit within her to really make her whole.
Salena Casha’s work has appeared in over fifty publications. Her fiction has been included in Wigleaf’s Top 50 Very Short Fictions and has been nominated for a pushcart prize. Her first three picture books are housed under the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt publishing umbrella. Visit her website at www.salenacasha.com
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